Shopping is a big part of any exotic holiday and India is a shoppers' paradise. From colourful markets to traditional handicrafts, in Goa you'll find souvenirs, textiles, jewellery, carpets and one-off bargains from all over India.
Where to Shop
Tourism lures market traders to Goa from all over India. While this means that you’re unlikely to take home much that is genuinely Goan – apart from decorative bottles of cashew feni, packets of locally grown spices and perhaps hand-painted tiles – it also means that you can find almost anything from Kashmiri carpets to Karnatakan carvings.
Panaji has a growing number of upscale ‘lifestyle boutiques’ vending high-end household goods and gorgeous Goan coffee-table books. Craft shops, department stores and clothes shops line the 18th June Rd and MG Rd, while Caculo Mall is a modern multistorey department store. Calangute and Candolim, too, host a selection of sleek boutiques, souvenir shops and big-name brands. Most stores are situated on the roads leading down its beaches, and on the main Fort Aguada road.
In Goa the markets are either aimed specifically at tourists or specifically at locals. For local shopping, try the municipal markets in Panaji and Margao, offering plenty of colour and a good line in spices, bangles and posters of Indian gods, or head to Mapusa, where the daily morning market is busiest and most vibrant on Fridays.
Anjuna’s Wednesday flea market, though somewhat commercialised and predictable, is still a major weekly attraction and good fun to wander around. The two Saturday night markets – Mackie’s in Baga and the Saturday Nite Market (formerly Ingo’s) in Arpora – are also good fun, with food stalls, entertainment, neon-lit stalls and lots of flashing jewellery. The three tourist markets operate only during the high season from November to the end of March.
The roads leading to the beach in Palolem and Arambol are packed with stalls selling silver jewellery, drums, hammocks, embroidered bedsheets, sandals, and all the usual lines in Indian souvenirs. But if you prefer the goods to come to you, never fear: sit for 15 minutes on almost any stretch of beach, and migrant salespeople will appear bearing jewellery, fabrics, and an excellent well-practised hard sell.
What to Buy
In Goa you’ll find a couple of knick-knack–style antique shops in Mapusa, near the Municipal Gardens, along with antique-furniture shops scattered here and there across the state. Most shops can organise shipping.
To protect India’s cultural heritage, the export of certain antiques is prohibited, especially those which are verifiably more than 100 years old. Reputable antique dealers know the laws and can make arrangements for an export-clearance certificate for old items that are OK to export. Detailed information on prohibited items can be found on the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) website (www.asi.nic.in).
It may not surprise you that India produces and exports more hand-crafted carpets than Iran, but it probably comes as more of a surprise to find that some of them are of virtually equal quality. India’s best carpets come from Kashmir, and can be found in Kashmiri-run shops throughout Goa.
Indian leatherwork is not made from cowhide but from buffalo, camel, goat or some other form of animal. Chappals, the basic sandals found all over India, are the most popular buy.
Probably the most characteristic Kashmiri craft, basic papier-mâché articles are made in a mould, then painted and polished in layers until the final intricate design is produced. Items include bowls, jewellery boxes, tables and lamps.
This is still India’s major industry and 40% of the total production is at village level, where it is known as khadi (homespun cloth). Bedspreads, tablecloths, cushion covers or fabric for clothing are popular khadi purchases. In Gujarat and Rajasthan heavy material is embroidered with tiny mirrors and beads to produce everything from dresses to stuffed toys to wall hangings; tie-dye work is popular in Rajasthan and Kerala; and in Kashmir embroidered materials are turned into shirts and dresses. All of this is available in Goa shops and markets.
The Art of Haggling
The friendly art of haggling is an absolute must in most parts of Goa and Mumbai, unless you don’t mind paying above market value. Traders in towns and markets are accustomed to tourists who have lots of money and little time to spend it, meaning that a shopkeeper’s ‘very good price’ might in fact be a rather bad one.
If you have absolutely no idea what something should really cost, a good rule of thumb is to bank on paying half of what you’re originally quoted. The vendor will probably look aghast and tell you that this is impossible, as it’s the very price they had to pay for the item themselves. This is when the battle for a bargain begins and it’s up to you and the salesperson to negotiate a price. You’ll find that many shopkeepers lower their so-called final price if you head out of the shop and tell them that you’ll think about it.
Don’t lose your sense of humour and sense of fairness while haggling – it’s not a battle to squeeze every last rupee out of a poor trader, and not all vendors are out to make a fool of you. In essence, the haggle itself is often the very spirit, and the fun, of the Indian shopping experience. Don't forget to smile – and never get angry.